Energy is key for Karen Courtland Kelly

Former Olympian is driven

1994 Olympian, Karen Courtland Kelly, firmly believes that figure eights are the greatest core stability system ever created in any sport.
1994 Olympian, Karen Courtland Kelly, firmly believes that figure eights are the greatest core stability system ever created in any sport. (J. Barry Mittan)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(06/25/2009) - For most of Karen Courtland Kelly's amateur career, competitive skaters were not allowed to earn money coaching. So, the 1994 Olympian (in pairs with Todd Reynolds) became a clown. She formed a company called The Party Troup and she and fellow skaters did shows, played birthday parties, delivered singing telegrams and did character impersonations. She says she's glad she couldn't earn her living at the rink -- it forced her to learn a world outside of skating.

"It got me out of the rink and it made me think," she says. "It made me communicate with people outside of skating. I had to make a good amount of money in a short period of time so I could pay for my skating and have time to train. It made me better because I had to get out of the rink, get my job done, get into the rink and focus and be serious about my training."

Her 15-year professional career has combined work in and out of skating, and she continues to seek out diverse projects. Although she loves varied experiences, Courtland Kelly does admit skating is often her reference point.

After settling in Lake Placid, N.Y., in the mid-90s, Courtland Kelly decided to take advantage of the relative proximity to Montreal and learn more about production. She attended the National Theatre School of Canada, where she did a specialization called conceptual realization and management, which was part of the technical production program.

"I was attending my first lighting class and the instructor got on the stage and he walked dead center," she recalls. "He put his feet together and faced the audience. He looked to the right and put his right arm out to the side and looked to the left and put his left arm out to the side and he made this long axis. Then he put his arms down and put his arms in the short axis. I thought, 'Lighting design is nothing but figure eights over the stage-dropping light in circles over the stage.'"

Although Courtland Kelly achieved her greatest success in pairs skating, she passed all six gold USFS tests: figures, free style, pairs, dance, free dance and moves in the field. She believes passionately that figures are at the root of good skating, and she's recently completed work on a DVD that will help skating coaches keep that foundation of the sport alive.

"My hope is that this helps everyone to fall in love with skating in the sense that the foundation of our sport isn't forgotten," she says. "Figure eights made everyone a better skater.

"Figure eights are the greatest core stability system ever created in any sport. You had to skate a clean edge without any wiggles on a circle and trace it. That's deep core stability.

"The concept is I want to help teach the teachers the foundation of the sport so they have a base of knowledge that then can be passed on. I feel very fortunate in my life that I grew up in the generation of learning and skating figure eights."

On the DVD, Courtland Kelly shares her concept of how to teach figure eights correctly, even on a free skating session. When there's an opportunity to have clean ice, she demonstrates how to run a class that's challenging and interesting. She said when she teaches in Lake Placid, kids flock to her figures classes.

"Teaching someone correctly from the beginning and making them excited about learning it correctly and understanding it is where good teachers set a good foundation and kids flourish and are motivated to stay in the sport," says Courtland Kelly. She will also be available to consult with coaches who want to implement her programs.

Courtland Kelly has also combined her skills into a live multimedia show that she titled Energy, which she's presented to the skaters of Disney on Ice as well as to an audience of scientists.

"It's got sound and music that go with a theme that comes up on the screen. It's about energy and how to protect your talent," she says. "I show them how their energy is their talent and that is linked to their worth and their paycheck. How they have to protect their talent. What are the secret weapons and hidden dangers of doing that.

"I motivate them. I take them on a psychological ride. In a fun way, I help them to realize that they need to be grateful for their talent, because not everyone can do this. It takes many years of training and lots of hard work."

Courtland Kelly is also a certified Pilates instructor. She and her husband of 14 years, Patrick Kelly, a two-time Olympian in speed skating (they met at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and held their wedding reception at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club) have a company called Peak Edge Performance and consult on a variety of things related to ice sports. She also continues to perform, usually as a soloist these days.

"I like teaching. I love skating," she says. "When I skate, that's my soul."